Video: Appeal Theatre Group enjoy working 9 to 5 on New Wolsey Theatre show

Appeal Theatre Group stage 9 to 5 at The New Wolsey Theatre, July 13-16. Photo: Contributed

Appeal Theatre Group stage 9 to 5 at The New Wolsey Theatre, July 13-16. Photo: Contributed - Credit: Archant

With the musical 9 to 5, Dolly Parton moved from country star to Broadway composer. David Henshall discovers this is a show with a message.

Appeal Theatre Group stage 9 to 5 at The New Wolsey Theatre, July 13-16. Photo: Contributed

Appeal Theatre Group stage 9 to 5 at The New Wolsey Theatre, July 13-16. Photo: Contributed - Credit: Archant

She’s not on stage but, by popular agreement, Dolly Parton is the star of this show. 9 to 5 is the musical based on the 1980 movie of the same name in which Parton played the role of Doralee, one of a group of women who strike a significant blow for their sex, wrapped up in a great comedy.

Parton loved the film, with its underlying serious message, and finally felt empowered to write the score and the lyrics for the musical version that took Broadway by surprise. It was nominated for more than 30 American awards in all: Tonys, Drama Desk, Grammys etc. It took only three – the music, the dance and the book – but it gave the critics a new aspect of the Parton talent to applaud.

9 to 5 features a book by Patricia Resnick, based on her screenplay with Colin Higgins. It launched in Los Angeles before moving to New York in 2009. It was reshaped and cut by a new director, Jeff Calhoun, before it went out on the road in the US and this is the version that toured Britain in 2012-13. It has now been opened up for amateur companies and Appeal Theatre has seized it for their annual summer visit to the Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich.

Appeal Theatre pass on the profits from their shows – many thousands of pounds in total – to charities and this year it is one that helps young people: Fresh Start New Beginnings.

Appeal Theatre Group stage 9 to 5 at The New Wolsey Theatre, July 13-16. Photo: Contributed

Appeal Theatre Group stage 9 to 5 at The New Wolsey Theatre, July 13-16. Photo: Contributed - Credit: Archant

The women in 9 to 5 are starting a fresh working day for Consolidated Industries and this is something that three of them, Doralee, Violet and Judy, are less than happy about – Judy because it’s a new job and the other two because their boss, Franklin Hart Jr, is a nasty, lecherous piece of work, and inefficient with it.

In particular, Hart lusts after Doralee and sees no shame in letting his feelings be known around the place, even suggesting, quite wrongly, that they were having an affair. Violet has yet again been overlooked for promotion by Hart and is very angry because she trained the person who got the job.

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Bit by bit the three women chum up and, united in their contempt for their boss, they meet at Violet’s house, light up a joint and suddenly each of them drifts into a murderous fantasy involving Hart: Doralee as a rodeo star, singing Cowgirl’s Revenge; Judy as a femme fatale (The Dance of Death) and Violet as a deranged Snow White (Potion Notion).

But these are just dreams. Hart lives, and they give some thought to putting poison in his coffee, a plan that is foiled by Roz, Hart’s assistant. But things go from bad to worse and the brave threesome then kidnap their boss and hold him prisoner in the hopes of changing him. But the leopard doesn’t change its spots.

Jo Whelton is directing 9 to 5 and says it offers a great challenge because there are eight principal roles, unusual in musical theatre, and it is very timely and resonant in that it offers an insight into the problems of women juggling their work with their private lives. “It’s good, also, in that there are lots of supporting roles, so that everybody can feel they have a contribution to make – and some of them are parts that speak to anyone who has ever had a job with a nasty boss,” she laughs.

In her experience, are nasty bosses commonplace?

“Not necessarily commonplace,” she laughs again, “but Hart is one of those characters who typifies all the niggles you’ve ever had with a boss but magnified 100 times. He makes remarks and jokes that were probably widespread in the 1970s but are now totally unacceptable. He’s a caricature, everyone’s conception of a nasty boss.”

Jo says the score is very uplifting.

“It is also quite complex, with harmonies that are challenging even for experienced singers, but Dolly Parton is so lyrical in the way she writes. I’m a great fan of songs that progress the story, and these definitely do that. It’s not classic Dolly Parton but it’s a nice fresh score and will still please her fans, because one or two of the numbers have a Dollyish, countryesque twist to them. There are ballads and slightly poppy songs, but each number is very much driven by the character singing it.”

She likes all the songs but is especially fond of One of the Boys, “a fabulous number with stylized choreography that makes me smile every time I see it. Shine like the Sun is another, with beautiful harmonies as these women declare that, no matter what, they will get through anything that life throws at them.”

It’s a show with quite a few production numbers. But not just an opportunity for people to dance. “There’s always a lot going on in the background, with everybody interacting with the principals. Suzie Lowe is the choreographer and there are also a lot of show-stopping moments with comedy or where the characters can show their heart and soul.”

Darren Nunn is Franklin Hart – “a great rat-fink,” laughs Jo. Michelle Poutney-Langham is Doralee, with Jane Robinson as Violet, Catherine Roberts as Judy and Catherine Connolly as Roz in a cast of nearly 30.

This year the group is supporting the charity Fresh Start, New Beginnings which offers support and hope to children and families affected by sexual abuse.

9 to 5 is at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, July 13–16. There is a signed performance on July 15.

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